Cutting-edge interactive marketers are tinkering with opportunities on a variety of new digital platforms. Our panel of industry experts tells you what's working -- and what's not.
From social gaming to digital music, from the iPhone to the Xbox, marketers are constantly exploring new ways to reach their target audiences. And some strategies are working better than others.
At the iMedia Breakthrough Summit in Henderson, Nev., a group of industry thought leaders shared their insights into the cutting-edge approaches and platforms that will drive digital marketing in 2010 and beyond. Here are the trends to watch.
So often, brands' intricately planned social media efforts are failing to meet expectations. But why is this?
Much of it has to do with a failure to develop truly three-dimensional personalities in the social space, said Jim Nichols, senior partner and strategist at Catalyst: SF. Many brands limit their social spokespeople's communications to certain topics and certain tones, rather than allowing them to evolve into fully formed online personalities -- people with emotions, views, passions, and flaws.
To remedy this, Nichols recommended marketers take a lesson from online celebrities such as Ree Drummond, "The Pioneer Woman." Web celebs like Drummond have cultivated vast online audiences by engaging with their readers honestly and openly, via multiple channels as the message merits. Here are Nichols' seven tips for marketers looking to cultivate their own online celebrity spokespeople:
- You can't "create" a Ree Drummond. But you likely can find someone within your organization who has a natural storytelling ability that can be harnessed and interwoven with your products and services.
- Let your web celebrities be themselves.
- Communicate through multiple channels. Successful web celebrities use different media for different communications.
- Give them time to participate, to read, to write, and to answer emails and comments.
- Encourage them to tell stories.
- Commit. These aren't quarterly projects. They can take years to cultivate.
- Have realistic traffic goals. It can take time to build an audience.
Making video more interactive
It's no secret that cut-down commercials aired as pre-roll in online video forums fail to capture the full potential that the channel has to offer. So, how can marketers capitalize on this wildly popular medium?
According to a presentation prepared by Alan Schulman, president and chief creative officer of U.DIG - The Digital Innovations Group (presented by iMedia senior content producer Daisy Whitney in Schulman's absence), it's high time for marketers to look beyond traditional online video advertising opportunities such as pre-roll and overlays. The future, according to Schulman, lies in user-generated video ads.
Marketers can introduce levels of interactivity to their video ads in multiple ways by adding elements such as web links, additional video choices and, yes, even "skip ad" buttons. In this way, marketers can keep consumers active within the ad unit, thereby turning a one-way experience into a two-way engagement.
The evolution of gaming
Gaming isn't just for hard-core gamers anymore, noted Dean Carignan, director of advertising strategy for Xbox LIVE. Rather, the future of gaming platforms lies in providing broader experiences that encompass gaming as well as social networking and entertainment.
Xbox, which has already begun rolling out Twitter and Facebook functionality to its platform, embodies the kind of opportunities that the new world of gaming offers to advertisers. Consider, for example, the company's Project Natal. Representing a move toward a controller-free gaming and entertainment experience, Project Natal enables users to connect with people in their online networks and navigate via gestures and spoken commands. This includes the ability for the system to recognize objects that are presented to it, which opens up an array of opportunities for brands that want to encourage Xbox users to find, use, and share their products in this virtual space.
Online video and content creation
"Video is not emerging -- it has emerged," said David Jablonowski, director of The Exchange at Mindshare. This is evidenced not only in the proliferation of interactive video features such as those described above, but also in the continued shift in the way that marketers are creating content for the channel.
Take, for instance, "Green Done Right," a successful branded content series produced and distributed by Digital Broadcasting Group for Mindshare in Chicago and CPG giant Kimberly-Clark. The campaign, built around Scott Naturals brand paper towels, represents one innovative way that companies today are looking beyond the banner when it comes to marketing their products online, said Chris Young, CEO of DBG. Having surpassed all initial engagement expectations, the web series, hosted by HGTV's Kahi Lee, stands as a great argument for long-form branded content online.
Social games, location-based apps, and digital music
The future of marketing is not disruptive. Rather, it's one in which brands know their place in emerging media and provide value to consumers where appropriate. Marc Ruxin, EVP and chief innovation officer at McCann Worldgroup San Francisco, took a look at how this shift is taking place in the realm of social games, location-based apps, and digital music.
Social gaming. Approximately 15 million people play the top four Zynga games every day, and company revenue is estimated in the tens of millions. So how does a purveyor of free games make money? "It's a virtual goods economy," Ruxin said. Players desire -- and will pay for -- branded virtual goods and attributes that enable them to do better in a given game, be it Mafia Wars or Sorority Life. "For brands, it's about being in the game and adding value to the experience," he said.
Location-based apps. If a mobile user searches for the movie "District 9," and the returned search query includes an ad featuring the trailer for the movie "Paranormal Activity," there's a good chance that's going to be relevant to the user. And what would be even more relevant is if "Paranormal Activity" happens to be playing at the theater that person is passing at that very minute. In short, by combining geo-location information with other known user attributes, advertisers can ensure that they are reaching consumers when and where they can provide the most value.
Digital music. Music continues to evolve. Once physical, later digital, and now increasingly rented through on-demand services, music presents a significant opportunity for like-minded sponsors. Advertisers today can reach their target audiences, based on their musical preferences, via platforms like imeem, Blip.fm, Spotify, and Pandora. Savvy brands, such as Dr. Pepper, are taking it one step further and enabling their consumers to own and mash-up their favorite tracks.
Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.
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